(Planet Me)
Monday, December 12, 2011
NEW ORDER London Troxy 10 December 2011

The nostalgia circuit is a fate that bands as majestically stubborn as New Order should always avoid, and one that – for almost all of what you might laughably called their haphazard career – on the evidence of a frostbitten Saturday night in East London, is also one that will elude them.

It is not New Order's style to cycnically reform just for money : nor once reflected in their often sublime songs. Instead of some strangled reinvention of the name – the curse of many a band turning up after a long absence – tonights appearance feels, sounds, and is, an authentic experience. If you fear you are missing out because Peter Hook isn't here, well, fear not. This – Hooky or not – is still New Order. Different yes, but the same.

After a thirteen year absence from the group caused by serious illness in the family and her own battle with cancer, Gillian Gilbert takes to the stage. Bernard Sumner and drummer Stephen Morris are joined by Phil Cunningham (who replaced Gillian), and the new bass player, Tom Chapman – borrowed from Sumner's short-lived post New Order band Bad Lieutenant round out the lineup, that is as much New Order as one can hope.


But is it New Order? Yes. Undoubtedly. And despite the juvenile ranting from the former bassist who'd rather the band struggled on whilst seriously ill families suffered at home, the same bassist who has vowed to “Fuck Over The Band Any Way I Can”, and calls his former band “NEW ODOUR” on his website, also vividly bemoans the fact the band haven't called him to play bass (though, to be honest, I wouldn't if I were them), the fact is that he is not missed at all.

Therefore, longstanding, estranged, and publically bitter former bassist Peter Hook is absent. Aside from the barely-noticed hole where he stood – and to most people it would've been irrelevant – there's little sign of anything other than business as usual. Tom Chapman ably plays the parts with a distinct and individual style that remains true to the songs, but not in imitation of the big boots to fill.

The evening opens with “Elegia” (which was last played in the UK at Glastonbury in 1987). From there, the set is a determindedly fun romp of perverse, perfect pop. Whilst the majority of the set is 20 years old, the songs themselves haven't aged and are as relevant now as ever. And, with an audience ranging from 20 year old French girls to 60 year old Brits, it's fair to say that these songs matter across the human spectrum.


And a lot of 40 something, slightly podgy, slightly balding, fat Disco Dads – myzelf included – are very happy about tonight. We bounce and jump and sing. Songs appear for minutes at a time, then disappear. The words and the melodies form, in our minds, worlds – beautiful ones I prefer to the one I live in. The opening chords of “Regret” are a time machine, but also, a world where happiness, and sorrow, co-exist, built with the edge of optimism we need to survive. In short succession, songs that haven't been heard on these shores since Manchester in 1988 (“Age Of Consent”), Glasgow in 1987 (“586”), or Birmingham in 1989 (“1963”). And they are glorious. The songs have been (mostly) redesigned, reprogrammed, reconstructed, and thus, they sound the same... but different. “586”, particularly, when the songs breaks down into just a clattering ehythm and a cacophony of guitars, before swooping back, and I used to think that the day would never come. I used to think I would never see New Order at all. Or ever again. Let alone be like this : With Bernard, Phil, and Gillian strumming a triple pronged guitar assualt on “Ceremony”.

Unlike the 1998-2006 era New Order, this is no band that stands firmly in the shadow of their former incarnation – Joy Division – but one which unapologetically wrests back long lost songs. They even look as if they are enjoying themselves, which is unlike them.

It might be a sense of reclamation. With the bitter Hooky touring small rooms across the world performing 30 year old Joy Division songs in a tribute to himself, these songs – New Order songs – are being reclaimed by the minds that made them. I must admit, brilliant as Joy Division were, seeing New Order neglect their body of work and perform a multitude of songs by another band was getting boring.


But then the band strike up the metronomic, gorgeous “Bizarre Love Triangle”, or the thundering reworked “True Faith”, or the squealing roar of frogs that is “The Perfect Kiss”, or the whole crowd as-one singing the keyboard lines and live adlibs of the glorious “Temptation”, and it does not matter. Debt, divorce, deception, all these adult things fall away. We have music, we have hope, we have glorious noise, and beautiful things happening. Tom Chapman swings away on bass as if he has always been there, Stephen Morris pounds drum as a human robot, Gillian tinkles chords, the band themselves create a wonderful storm of sound : the kind that makes my world a better place.

Who would've thought this would've happened? Five years ago, with the band just split up, and the future seeming to consist of nothing but maudlin reissues and very public bickering, tonight seemed an impossibility.

And it still is. It's New Order, Jim, but not as you know them. And Pop music may be by its nature shallow, fragile, fleeting, happy and sad, like life itself, but Pop Music is one of the things that saved my life. And New Order are still one of the best live bands I have ever seen. I wouldn't've missed a night like this for the world.


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